The lights of the Boyne Theater will shine again!
For the last 18 months a small group of community members have worked closely with Richard Bergman, owner of the Boyne City Taproom and the Boyne Theater, to find a new way to help bring the theater back to life. Bergman has a deep desire to restore the theater. He sees it not only as a benefit to his adjoining businesses but to the entire Boyne community. The Boyne City Main Street program shares his vision and his belief. Bergman recalls going to the Boyne Theater as a boy, and grew up hearing stories of his grandfather seeing Harry Houdini perform there.
Bergman invested thousands of dollars and countless hours consulting with experts and researching options to reopen the theater. Ultimately, he decided that to give the theater its best chance for success it should transition to those who can more directly focus on making the theater’s reopening a reality. On May 30th Boyne City Main Street purchased the theater for $350,000. Boyne City Main Street’s mission includes economic vitality and historic preservation which will, over time, realize the shared vision. Bergman is providing all of his research and plans to support the project. The City of Boyne City, acting in concert with Boyne City Main Street, purchased the adjoining parking lot north of the theater for $150,000. That lot and its 20 spaces are now fully open to serve the public. The effort to reopen the theater will take an estimated 3 to 5 years and a preliminary estimate of about $2.1 million to complete.
“We are very excited to partner with Michelle Cortright and the Boyne Theater Revival Team to transition this wonderful historic asset to a new community- owned facility. This transition will move this project forward to a new future of an operating theater again. The grants and abatements afforded to non-profit organizations will allow this project to move forward more effectively and with a great team to set the new direction. Congratulations to the Boyne Theater Revival Team and Boyne City Main Street for a great new initiative for Boyne City,” Bergman said.
Boyne City Main Street has long seen the rebirth of the Boyne Theater as a key element in the long-term success for the community. A previous Boyne City Main Street plan from years ago shared the vision that a key element of a successful downtown was ‘The lights of the Boyne Theater shining again!’ That vision has now taken a first major step forward with the purchase of the property.
Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer shared his thoughts regarding the theater: “Boyne City has a very significant longtime emotional and historical relationship with our downtown theater. This acquisition is the first step for our community to have the opportunity to become involved in the economic redevelopment of our theater, create an economic engine in our downtown, and encourage the historic preservation of a landmark. In my opinion, this is a wise long term investment. This commitment is a testimony to our community’s resolve and past successes. Yes, we can do this!”
The roots of the Theater run long and deep in the Boyne community. The original building was constructed in 1903 by C.I. Bellamy as the Bellamy Opera House, owned by William J. Garland.
It was renovated into a theater in 1915-1916. In 1926 the building was acquired by Mr. Heaton and renamed the Boyne Theater. Another remodeling was completed in 1938, and featured a seating capacity of 578. For decades movies were shown, and later a dance club was added. A second story was constructed in 1994 as a club room, and the auditorium was split into two theaters. During the 1990s the small theater space was used as an adult theater. The Boyne Theater operated until 2003 and has been closed since that time. The theater is a contributing structure to downtown Boyne City’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been the site of many local and school performances. Many memories have been made there.
Laura Krizov, Manager, Michigan Main Street Program at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, has been alongside Boyne City since the Main Street program took shape. “This project is key in the continued efforts to revitalize downtown. The Boyne City Main Street Program focuses on fulfilling the economic development and historic preservation values that are important to the work of Main Street,” she said.
Michelle Cortright took her son Michael to his first movie at the Boyne Theater. “We went to see The Lion King and he sat on my lap, enthralled. Such a precious memory,” she said.
City Manager Michael Cain had another type of memory however, one of opportunities missed.
“Our family had just moved to Boyne and I was thinking how great it would be for our four girls to go and see movies there. Our oldest was in 6th grade and the youngest in preschool. Jillian, our youngest, is graduating from High School this month. For all my girls, and most of their Boyne City classmates, the Boyne Theater has always been dark and not the safe local option for hometown fun and memories they could have had. This is our best chance to turn that around and create a new economic draw right here in Boyne City.”
For years, several owners of the theater had hopes to reopen it. About a decade ago there was a very serious and productive Main Street and community effort to acquire and restore the theater.
Under the direction of then-Main Street Manager Hugh Conklin, and local event producer Bill Aten, they worked with then-owner Paul Mitchell to donate the theater to the community.
Community volunteers cleaned out nearly a decade’s worth of accumulated odds and ends. A draft agreement between the parties with drafted in 2012. However, those plans did not work out when the adjacent Thirsty Goat restaurant closed and the properties, including the theater and parking lot, were put up for sale together. That cycle has repeated itself several times, under various owners, since the theater closed.
However, during that earlier theater effort Boyne City Main Street learned a lot and made good connections. Visits made to other northern Michigan theaters have underscored the positive impact theaters have on their communities, both socially and economically. Such impacts can readily be seen at the Vogue in Manistee, the State in Traverse City and the nearby successful theaters in Charlevoix and Harbor Springs.
“Boyne City Main Street has always strived to assist in the preservation of historic buildings, as reflected in years of goal planning sessions. A planning session from almost a decade ago listed multiple key buildings in the downtown to preserve, including the Boyne Theater. With the purchase of the theater we can now finally check the last building on that list off, and get to work on restoration and revival,” said Rob Swartz, Boyne City Main Street Chairman.
Now that reoccurring cycle has been broken and a new path forward can be charted. The restaurant can move forward without the burden of the closed theater and the theater can move forward on its own. Finding the right recipe for the theater’s success is now Boyne City Main Street’s top priority.
Boyne City Main Street Executive Director Kelsie King-Duff has community theater experience from her prior role with the City of Allegan’s Regent Theatre.
“I’ve been able to see first-hand the impact a community theater can have on a downtown. The revival of the Boyne Theater is going to serve as a catalyst for the future of downtown Boyne City. This will be another project to that will make our community proud!” she said.
While it will likely take several years for the Boyne Theater to open, a first priority will be to get the marquee lights shining again as a symbol of what is to come. During this time, looking ahead with hope and vision is just what we need. The Boyne Theater is now owned by the Boyne City community and its’ future is up to us.